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Big Big Train - Folklore Album Review

Album Review

The ninth album from the acclaimed pastoral prog group Big Big Train takes a whimsical new route in storytelling. It’s folk, Jim, but not as we know it…

"l like progressive rock because it’s like having a musical TARDIS,” Big Big Train’s David Longdon told Prog last July as the octet readied the successor to lauded 2013 album English Electric Part Two, and prepared for three super-rare, sold-out London shows.

“You can send it anywhere and as long as you have a story to tell, you can go into any style, any genre.”

Well, BBT might not be indulging any extreme metal or minimalist electronica tendencies just yet, but if you want stories, as ever, they’ve got ’em. For the last two years their time machine has hoovered up facts and fables from megalithic sites, 17th-century rituals, modern-age action adventurers and more. It’s what we’ve come to expect of these Anglo-American-Swedish chroniclers. Devotees of art, literature and legend, they keep mythic ideas and exceptional characters alive through poetry and song on a grand, almost orchestral scale. And there could only be one title for their new album. Folklore is a perfect fit given that these nine yarns were envisioned as twilit stories shared around a roaring campfire as family and friends draw close and imaginations spark.

The opening title track serves as an overture, a string-led largo-cum-brass fanfare that soon kicks up its heels for Celtic-flavoured funk that sets the storyteller’s scene – ‘We pass it down to the young from the old/We feel it deep down in the soul.’ Nodding to Steeleye Span, Fairport, perhaps even East Of Eden and Planxty, there’s a smashing Moog/guitar/flute-off at the end.

We blame bassist and band founder Greg Spawton for BBT’s lift-you-up-then-leave-you-weeping specials. He does it again with London Plane, an acoustic beauty spotlighting a long-standing, leafy resident and its vantage point of The Big Smoke from York Watergate, by The Strand. Time and tide wait for no man as, in sequence, the capital goes up in flames, Turner drifts by in his boat, and Skylon looms from across the river. A jazzy, Yes-like midsection eddies into a climactic guitar solo from Rikard Sjöblom, smoothed out by vibraphone. It’s only track two and there’s not a dry eye in this house.

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